Sandy Designer Corner – Invasion of the Brood

Sandy Designer Corner – Invasion of the Brood

When I was 13 years old, I invented an alien race to rule the star empire I pretended to control in my fun pretend games with my pals. All my friends invented alien nations too. Mine were the broodmasters – hideous black hulks without any sensory organs except telepathy. They spawn small arachnid-like broodlings from their bodies to act as workers, soldiers, and everything else. While the broodmaster itself hid in an underground burrow or a fortress, the broodlings swarmed over the landscape building a civilization, all under direct control of their ruling broodmaster’s immense mind. Over the years I kept refining these aliens until I understood almost all the details of their grim society, rapacious personalities, and strange biology. Then I turned 16, found out about girls, and that was that for the broodmasters.

In 1991, I designed the games Lightspeed and Hyperspeed for MicroProse Software, and I needed a bunch of aliens. Naturally, with the Broodmasters already pre-designed so to speak, I put them into this game series:

In 2018, I designed the tabletop game Hyperspace, and once again I needed a bunch of alien civilizations. Naturally, I pulled the broodmasters out of my back pocket. Again. And this time I made them a key feature of the game – one of the four core civilizations. In February 2019 we crowdfunded Hyperspace to reasonable success. Presumably they wouldn’t show up again. I mean, why would they?

But in March 2019, I had an extremely detailed dream. In this dream, I was designing a game in which a broodmaster was attacking the modern Earth. It was launching baby broodmasters onto the planet surface, molting them into adults, spawning broodlings, seizing control of human military units and leaders, and so forth. It was quite detailed. It was a two-player game – one as the broodmaster, the other as the human resistance. I don’t know how long the dream went on – time & dreams are hard to reconcile, and I have absolutely fallen asleep, had a long involved dream, awakened and seen that it was only 20 minutes later. Go figure.

Anyway after I woke up, I realized that all the core systems for a Brood vs. Humanity game had been designed by my sleeping mind. It was like a free game design. I didn’t do much about it till September, when I finally felt impelled to actually create this game, which I then named Invasion of the Brood.

So I started. I had a working prototype by October, which I playtested, and even took to Europe to conventions. It was a fun fast game and of course highly asymmetrical – the two sides don’t even have the same turn sequence. Response by my testers was super-positive, and now at last it is being released – about 10 months after I finished all testing and writing. But my team had other projects to work on, so Invasion of the Brood was on a back burner for a while.

But now at least it appears – my dream game, literally. This has never happened to me at any other time. Yes I have dreams about game design, but usually these dreams are along the lines of putting together a single game map; creating a monster; going to a playtest only to realize I’m not wearing pants; or finding out that my game prototype closet is full of huge spiders (I hate that one).

This is the only dream I can remember in which I designed a whole project from start almost to finish while I slept, so naturally I think it’s a pretty unusual origin story for a game. Let me know what you think, on the various Petersen Games social media sites.

– Sandy P.

Evacuate – Designer Diary

Evacuate – Designer Diary

Evacuate came about because I thought, “What game wants the player to be in the middle of a pack? Not the first, but not the last.” In most games, you are racing to be the first, the one in the lead. So I had to think of a way to convince the player that they didn’t necessarily want to be in the lead. What if there was danger all around and you didn’t know what was around the next corner? Would you want to lead the pack? And if the danger is all around then you don’t want to be at the back of the pack either. You want to be protected like the president with people all around you.

Next, I wanted a game that everyone started equal and had the same opportunities to play cards. There is luck of the draw in most games or roll of the dice. Evacuate (basic game) gives the players the same set of cards in their hand. This allows the players be on equal footing, and pushes them to out think their opponents instead of hoping for a good draw. In Evacuate, players need to estimate what everyone else is going to do on a turn and play accordingly.

Deck building has been something that I really enjoy, but has been done many times in other games. I thought “What about everyone contributing to the deck that is built? That would be different.” So in Evacuate, if a player loses a miniature, then they get to decide what card is added to the Nomia Deck. The deck is built by the community of players during the game, of course it might start to segue in a certain direction trying to even the playing field.

Finally, randomness is a necessary evil in a game. I would prefer that their was not randomness or very little. I really think the key to randomness is that it is the same for all players. Meaning that all players have to deal with the same randomness, be it a die roll or a draw of a card. In Evacuate, their are two random events that happen. First, the community built Nomia Deck has a card drawn each turn. The card is random, but all players have knowledge of what cards are in the deck – giving them the ability to predict what card will be drawn next. The other randomness in the game is the corridor that the players are running on. The player that reaches the end of the current corridor gets to choose if the pack turns left or right – thus they draw two cards and choose one for the next corridor.

I hope that you find Evacuate as fun to play as I enjoyed designing it.

Thank you,
Jeff

Design Corner – Potions & Profits

Design Corner – Potions & Profits

Potions and Profits came from the desire to build a game around imperfect information. There are many games about pushing your luck, value speculation, or just mitigating randomness but few built around giving players only general clues about the board state. A game with perfect information becomes one of low luck and high skill but this limits the enjoyment of many players. The game chess already exists and not everyone desires to play that game at every opportunity. On the other end of the spectrum are games that are high luck and low skill as the amount of information hidden from the players or random number generation makes it impossible to optimize play. I find that Potions and Profits sits in an interesting design space where it has some hidden information but every move a player takes grants imperfect information to every player, making every move engaging for everyone else at the table.

Potions and Profits intentionally uses multiple types of card backs. All players know if a player is playing “positive”,  “negative”, or “weird” cards, but only the one holding the card knows how game changing the card is. As nearly all cards are played face down during games of Potions and Profits, all the players at the table can try to discern the reason a type of card was played at any given point. This creates the wonderful type of gameplay that can only be experienced with human players. It is the classic “I know that you know that I know that they know that I know…” situation. If there is a potion a specific player needs to win, everyone else may start throwing all their negative cards at it to try and make it no longer worth that player’s time. If that player then throws one of the “weird” cards face down on that potion, it creates a puzzle for everyone to mull over. Did that player just find a way to nullify all the negative cards or did they just throw in something useless to tempt someone else to take the still ruined potion? It is a much more interesting game scenario than face down cards with identical backs. Hidden information often leads to individual players trying to mitigate the randomness surrounding their own turns while imperfect information leads to interesting speculation around your and your opponent’s optimal play.

Players are unable to take an action in Potions and Profits without signaling to other players what their intent might be. Advanced players know that this applies to most every game but Potions and Profits puts that fact front and center for everyone to enjoy. Imperfect information gives the average gamer a taste of the high-level reading and bluffing that most games keep hidden away for only the veteran players to discover. Potions and Profits isn’t a game where players first memorize typical play sequences and then can later dedicate mental energy to reading other player’s actions. Reading other players and analyzing the board state is built into the game from the first time you open the box. When gamers start playing with the imperfect information of Potions and Profits, they may well learn how players present these clues in other games, without the need for differing card backs giving that away.

– Zoran Dobrijevic (Designer of Potions & Profits)

Tips for Successfully Publishing a Game

Tips for Successfully Publishing a Game

A Publishers Interview with George Mylonas at Finders Grove. George wanted to get some advice from someone who knows the ins and outs of board games and tabletop RPGs to help guide him through developing a licensed game project. Here are the results! His website is FindersGrove.com

Can you give some advice on specific manufacturers for plastic mini figurines, boards and paper booklets? I know there are good deals overseas, but it’s hard to find one when you don’t speak the language and have little experience with physical production. Any leads on where to find these manufacturers and how to contact them would be majorly helpful. 

There are dozens of such manufacturers, and they are actually really, really easy to find. In fact, they are eager to contact you and my team has to fend off new requests from them every week. They always have someone who speaks excellent English.

One easy way to find them is to grab a game off your shelf that you think was well-made, and look for the Chinese manufacturer’s name on it. Then look them up on Google. Many of them have the city names of Ningbo or Guangzhou in their company name, but not all. They are primarily located in Guangdong province. I will say that it is possible to get a bad manufacturer – you will want to get one that has a track record. 

As for a kickstarter, were there any news outlets or influencers or social media marketing that significantly helped get the word out?

For my first kickstarters I did not use social marketing much, depending on my own well-known reputation to get the word around. I now pay a social media company to assist with this, but frankly I doubt their services would be useful to a newcomer.

The main sites you want to use are BoardGameGeek and Kickstarter itself. If you have a couple grand of cash laying around, you might want to consider paying for a banner ad on BoardGameGeek. Kickstarter itself will help a lot with its reach. I’d suggest frequent Kickstarter updates on your project, and both How-To-Play and playthrough videos.

Also, a couple of reviews would be good if you can get them. Most reviewers won’t review a game before it comes out, so you may have to do a “Player Feedback” video instead – have people play the game at a local game store or convention or your house if need be, then film their reactions to the game. (Obviously, edit out negative reactions if you have any)

Any general business tips and Kickstarter campaign advice?

Here are the most important four things I’ve learned from launching my games on Kickstarter. 

1) Shipping is a huge, huge part of your costs. You can easily lose ALL your profit by not charging shipping correctly. Do not forget to charge VAT for Europeans – they’ll bitch and moan about it, but if you eat those costs, that is literally all your profit, meaning you are making zero money on shipping to Europe. You also have to charge sales tax separately for every state in the USA. It’s a massive, massive pain and you may want to contact a fulfilment company to help you run the campaign. I can recommend https://gamerati.biz/ but there are others. If you do decide to go with Gamerati, tell Ed I sent you. 

2) Your game should be as complete and polished as possible before the campaign starts. In the old days, this wasn’t necessary. Now it is. 

3) Be as communicative as possible with your backers. Show up in the Comments. Blast updates. 

4) if your project fails, regard this as a gift from God. You now know that this game idea would not have been a success. Don’t complain about it and try to rework it so it’ll succeed. You’ve just been told it’s not working and now you don’t have to lose tens of thousands of dollars trying to make it work. I have had many, many failed kickstarter campaigns and I am grateful for each one. One time I really believed in the project, so I decided to rework the campaign and relaunched. I then (barely) funded –  I have ever since regretted doing it since that project did not have any momentum in the market either and I was stuck with thousands of copies taking up space in my warehouse (for which I paid) which took years to sell. Argh. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s good to know that the project is going to fail ahead of time – this is what Kickstarter tells you! 

Unusual Elements in Yig Snake Grandaddy

Unusual Elements in Yig Snake Grandaddy

Yig Snake Granddaddy is Petersen Games’ new roleplaying campaign for 5e, based on Lovecraft’s Cthulhu universe as found in Sandy Petersens Cthulhu Mythos. It brings players from Level 1 up to Level 14-20 over the course of several months of play. It comes in four acts, each 60-90 pages long, which combine into a single epic campaign, from the minds of Sandy Petersen and Matt Corley. This campaign is unusual for two reasons.

First, it features time travel, in that ancient creatures – clear back to the dinosaurs – are being brought to the present day to take over the world. This gives gamemasters a chance to feature extinct species and creatures. For example, dinosaurs and pterodactyls play a role in the campaign. Ancient now-vanished Lovecraftian beings, such as serpent men, elder things, and Yithians also make their appearance, and are fierce opponents, to say the least.

These beings are often less-used in Lovecraftian campaigns, because they’re hard to fit into the game world – Yithians should be controlling a world-spanning empire, not lurking in a dungeon, for instance. But this time-travel feature gives us an excuse to feature them. Spoiler – the Yithians do immediately take steps to establish that world-spanning empire!

Second, almost all the opponents are super-intelligent beings. The “stupidest” are the Serpent Men, who have an average INT of 18! The Elder Things and Yithians have average INTS of 23, and many are higher.

This leads to a problem for most gamemasters – how do you portray enemies who are smarter than humans? Smarter than the players, and for that matter, the gamemaster himself?! Well, the rules contain advice on how to do this very thing, and a summary of it is listed here, because it is useful in other situations and games.

Here are some tricks that I’ve used to play super-intelligent opponents.

  1. They almost always know when the PCs are approaching, because they’ve predicted it.
  2. They can instantly identify any equipment, gear, and magic items the PCs have visible. Even if they’ve never seen the item before, they can correctly work out what it does from its appearance. Remember: super-intelligent.
  3. As the gamemaster, listen to the players while they discuss possibilities of action. Then assume that the enemies have taken those player options into consideration.
  4. If the players pull off a coup of some sort, surprising you, you have two options. First, you can let it succeed. After all, wolves and even insects can sometimes surprise humans. Or if you feel your super-enemies would have figured this out, give them a contingency plan. Just pull it out of your butt – there is an escape pod, or a teleporting dinosaur, whatever. Don’t over use this though.
  5. If the enemy is defeated, figure out a way that they can work that defeat into their evil plan. You may not see how at first, but you might be able to figure out something by next week’s game night.
  6. Such enemies should rarely or never fall for an ambush.

Don’t despair – it’s okay if the PCs pull off victories. You’re not trying to “beat” the players. You just want their victory to feel like they beat entities who were smarter than they. This will give them a real feeling of accomplishment and make your game night a fun one.

About Sandy Petersen

Sandy got his start in the game industry at Chaosium in 1980, working on tabletop roleplaying games. His best-known work from that time is the cult game Call of Cthulhu, which has been translated into many languages and is still played worldwide.

He also worked on many other published projects, such as Runequest, Stormbringer, Elfquest and even the Ghostbusters RPG, and was instrumental in the creation of dozens of scenario packs and expansions. He also acted as developer on the original Arkham Horror board game.

In 2013 he founded Petersen Games which has released a series of highly successful boardgame projects, including The Gods War, Evil High Priest, and the much-admired Cthulhu Wars. His games have sold tens of millions of copies worldwide, and he has received dozens of awards from the game industry.

Using Game Elements to your Advantage in 8-Bit Attack

Using Game Elements to your Advantage in 8-Bit Attack

8-Bit Attack by Petersen Games is a game of manic cooperative battle, inspired by the old side-scrolling console games we all loved. Each player controls a gallant 8-bit hero who, with his friends, must take out a series of mini-bosses.

Power-up your heroes until they’re tough enough to take on the final boss- none other than Cthulhu himself! The five expansions to 8-Bit Attack add new final bosses in their own way as tough as Cthulhu.

You’ll need to apply both tactics and strategy as you work with your friends to defeat the fearsome foes. Three of the many game elements to assist with this are Ascension, Potions, and Runes.

A single Ascension is huge – you get an extra combat die, a new active ability, and a new passive ability. It’s terrific. Of course, it costs 2 medals. My son Lincoln always goes for Ascensions first. I’m not sure agree with his theory here.

I really like getting the potion sets. With a full set of potions, a hero can survive 2-3 extra rounds with the health potion, fire off 1-2 extra abilities with the energy potion, and then survive another 4-5 rounds PLUS fire off more abilities with the resurrection potion.

I think it’s better than an Ascension any day. Of course, it’s just one-use, as opposed to the Ascension’s permanent boost. Who’s right, me or Link? Hard to say. I think my plan of getting the potions is better if you then use those potions to take on a significantly higher Assault. In effect you’ve then paid 1 medal (for the potions) to earn perhaps 3 more. Well worth it, if you can pull it off.

But let’s talk Runes. Unlike an Ascension or set of potions, a single Rune won’t change everything, but it certainly makes a difference. It’s like an always-on buff in a sense. For example, look at this randomly drawn hero: Ava the Adventurous.

Her first Rune is HP+5. An extra 5 Hit Points typically lets her survive 2 more rounds of combat without needing a heal, depending on her enemies. She might last even longer against some foes. Two extra rounds mean two extra attacks for her, possibly enough to finish off an enemy or to get enough energy for another ability. 

Her second Rune is two slow armor. This is even better than the extra Hit Points, but only if she is being targeted by the right enemy. The King in Yellow champion for instance, only inflicts fast hits, so her armor is useless. But the Hellhound champion inflicts 2 slow hits in a counterattack, which means she can attack the Hellhound with impunity. That’s priceless. So, this Rune is situationally valuable. 

Her third Rune is an extra fast damage for every attack. It’s like rolling a whole extra die every turn – a predictable one! Most characters seem to manage to last 3-4 rounds in combat. This means the damage rune lets her inflict 3-4 extra damage, about half the hit points of a minion.

So, if she rolls into action without the damage rune, she’ll probably be able to kill 1 Minion in her 3-4 rounds of life. But with the damage rune, she can kill her own enemy quicker, and then kill off half of another player’s Minion. This has a snowball effect, letting all the players take less damage and finish their foes faster. Is it better than her two protective runes of Hit Points or Armor? It kind of depends on your play style. 

If you like precision, I’d go for the hit points. They’re reliable. If you’re a gambler, I’d go for the slow armor – it can be great vs. the right enemy. If you fall somewhere between these extremes, I’d say go for the fast attack. 

Or even more sensibly you could look and see what your fellows have for their abilities and boosts? If they are able to give everyone slow armor, you probably don’t need bonus slow armor on top of that. If they give everyone fast attacks, you may want your fast attack to add to it and make it even more effective. If they suck at healing, you may want the extra Hit Points for survival purposes.

The take home message is that you must craft your hero over the series of battles to get him or her tough enough to take on that final boss, and you have lots of choices in how to do this.

About Sandy Petersen

Sandy got his start in the game industry at Chaosium in 1980, working on tabletop roleplaying games. His best-known work from that time is the cult game Call of Cthulhu, which has been translated into many languages and is still played worldwide.

He also worked on many other published projects, such as Runequest, Stormbringer, Elfquest and even the Ghostbusters RPG, and was instrumental in the creation of dozens of scenario packs and expansions. He also acted as developer on the original Arkham Horror board game. In 2013 he founded Petersen Games which has released a series of highly successful boardgame projects, including The Gods War, Evil High Priest, and the much-admired Cthulhu Wars. His games have sold tens of millions of copies worldwide, and he has received dozens of awards from the game industry.